Graphics card buying advice: What should you pay attention to when buying a graphics card?

Graphics card purchase advice

As new computer games become more and more demanding, it is worthwhile to upgrade the existing PC from time to time with a new powerful graphics card. But for several months it has been very difficult to buy a suitable graphics card, as these are often either sold out or only available at extreme surcharges. This is due, on the one hand, to the gaming boom, which was favored by the corona crisis, and on the other hand, to the mining of cryptocurrencies. This drives the price significantly upwards.

Graphics Card Purchase Guide

Even if the current price and availability situation of graphics cards clouds the joy of PC upgrade somewhat, our graphics card purchase guide offers you some valuable tips when choosing a suitable graphics card. With us, you will learn which graphics cards are suitable for which applications, which offer a good price-performance ratio, and how to find the right graphics card in the current situation.

Who needs a graphics card?

The choice of a suitable graphics card depends on the individual performance requirements. Some processors already have an integrated graphics unit that can replace a dedicated graphics card. However, the graphics processors integrated into the CPU are in most cases not comparable in their performance to stand-alone graphics cards and are mainly suitable for simple office and multimedia applications. An exception here is the Ryzen APUs of the manufacturer AMD. These are processors with integrated graphics that offer satisfactory graphics performance even for some games in low to medium detail levels and Full HD resolution. However, if you want to enjoy current games on your PC smoothly in high resolution and with a realistic level of detail, in most cases you will not be able to avoid a dedicated graphics card. In addition, some application programs such as image editing, video editing, and graphics software also support GPU hardware acceleration, so the performance of the programs greatly benefits from the use of a powerful graphics card.

Which manufacturers are there?

There are currently two major manufacturers of graphics chips on the market: Nvidia and AMD. At Nvidia, the gaming GPUs are marketed under the name “GeForce” and at AMD under “Radeon”. Both AMD and Nvidia develop their own graphics cards, consisting of the graphics chip, the board (often called “PCB”), and a cooling system. However, both manufacturers not only offer their own graphics cards but also make their graphics chips available to various well-known board partners such as Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte, who develop their own graphics cards with individual PCB and cooling solutions based on the graphics chip. Through these optimizations, board partners can offer even more powerful or quiet graphics cards despite the same graphics processor and also enable a greater variety from an optical point of view. However, the performance differences between two graphics cards from different board partners with the same chip are often only marginal, so the choice depends mainly on features such as cooling solution, design, and manufacturer support.

In addition to AMD and Nvidia, the CPU market leader Intel has now also announced its own graphics cards with self-developed graphics chips. With “Intel Arc” the name of the new graphics cards is already known, but the exact market launch date is not yet known. Experts speculate that the first desktop variants will be released in the second quarter of 2022.

Which technical data should you know?

The big three main factors for performance are the computing units (shader units), the clock frequency, and the video memory. Basically, the more the better. Computing units and clock frequency work hand in hand. Often many computing units are accompanied by low clock frequency and vice versa. Which configuration of shader units and clock frequency offers advantages depends on the one hand on the target applications and on the other hand on other conditions such as the maximum permitted power consumption. With this, we are already addressing another important factor: power consumption. Theoretically, with the same architecture with higher power consumption, a higher clock frequency also achieves higher performance. However, graphics cards rarely scale linearly, so for a small increase in performance, there is often a large increase in power consumption. Therefore, graphics card manufacturers always try to achieve the optimal compromise (“sweet spot”) between performance and power consumption.

How can you assess the performance of a graphics card?

Over the past few years, a naming pattern has established itself at the graphics card manufacturers Nvidia and AMD, which already allows at least the manufacturer to classify the performance of the graphics cards internally. The last graphics card generations from Nvidia followed with a few exceptions the naming scheme “RTX (or previously GTX) X0Y0”, where the “X” represents the generation and “Y” the internal ranking. The higher “X”, the more up-to-date the graphics card, and the larger “Y”, the faster the graphics card. The same applies to the AMD models, which follow the nomenclature “RX XY00”.

However, in order to get a measurement and comparable performance values, you should read into independent practice benchmarks. Various trade magazines compare graphics cards in elaborate benchmark courses with regard to their performance in different games (with different screen resolutions and graphics settings) and applications. Since the majority of current computer screens have a refresh rate of 60 Hertz, a refresh rate of 60 frames per second (FPS) is considered a smooth, smooth gaming experience. However, various gaming screens already offer refresh rates beyond 200 Hertz, so the performance of the graphics card should harmonize with the refresh rate of the monitor.

Related Article: Motherboards: What you need to consider when choosing a motherboard

How much does a good graphics card cost?

Of course, how expensive and powerful a graphics card must depend on the requirements. Basically, the higher the resolution, i.e. the more pixels are displayed, the greater the requirements for the graphics card. Game benchmarks usually indicate performance for three different resolutions. There are benchmarks for Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), for WQHD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) and for UHD (3,840 x 2,160 pixels). Therefore, the purchase should be made primarily dependent on the resolution. The prices for gaming graphics cards start at about 300 euros, but the high-end models are currently beyond the 3,000 euro mark.

Why are graphics cards currently so expensive?

While a few years ago you got very powerful graphics cards for 200-300 euros for the time, today you often have to put over 1,000 euros on the table. But where does this enormous price increase come from?

Chip crisis and corona hit the market hard
The situation in the graphics card market is currently very tense, which is driving up prices. A major factor is the current semiconductor shortage, which affects not only graphics cards, but almost all electronic devices. Accordingly, there is a shortage of goods in the entire electronics market, which has rarely been seen so far. This bottleneck is underlined by the global corona pandemic, which on the one hand boosts the gaming market due to a lack of leisure alternatives and on the other hand also causes disruptions in the supply chains due to strict requirements by the authorities.

Cryptocurrencies cause availability bottlenecks

Another cause is the global hype around cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin. Cryptocurrencies are virtual assets that are also used as a means of payment, i.e. analogous to conventional currencies such as euros or US dollars. In the case of cryptocurrencies, the asset attributions are recorded in a so-called blockchain, which is encrypted by cryptography. Since the information about owners and transactions is processed simultaneously not on a centralized, but several thousand decentralized servers, it is almost impossible to accurately track transactions. This allows users of this currency to trade very safely and anonymously.

Bitcoin is by far the best-known cryptocurrency. It was launched as an open-source project in 2009 and has since experienced an indescribable upswing. In 2010, a Bitcoin was worth about 10 US cents, at the beginning of 2011 the value was for the first time one US dollar. 10 years later – in 2021 – the Bitcoin price has already exceeded the 60,000 US dollar mark several times. With such enormous growth, it is understandable that as many as possible want to get a piece of the pie. But what do cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have to do with graphics cards?

As the name suggests and already mentioned, cryptocurrencies rely on cryptography to verify and encrypt transactions. Encryption is very complex and requires enormous computing power in order to be implemented effectively. This is where graphics cards come into play because their graphics chips are ideally suited for encryption tasks in blockchains due to their technology and deliver high hash rates. Since the entire network is decentralized, computing power can be provided for encryption tasks anywhere in the world. As a reward for providing computing power, you receive remuneration in the form of cryptocurrency shares. Since cryptocurrencies are currently in great demand and the price has developed very positively in recent years, many take the opportunity to participate in crypto mining (“mining” of cryptocurrencies) and therefore resort to modern graphics cards. This ranges from individual graphics cards in the home PC to larger mining farms with several hundred graphics cards. The resulting availability gap results in rising prices for graphics cards, which drives wrinkles on the foreheads of PC gamers in particular.

How the situation of cryptocurrencies will continue to develop is currently very difficult to estimate. On the one hand, some stakeholders see cryptocurrencies as a serious alternative to conventional currencies. In September 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to recognize Bitcoin as its official currency. On the other hand, in the same month, China declared transactions of cryptocurrencies illegal, and India also wants to join this view. On the one hand, cryptocurrencies are currently associated with high price risk, on the other hand, crypto mining is accompanied by very high power consumption. Researchers estimate that about 114 to 124 terawatt hours of electricity are consumed annually for crypto mining worldwide. For comparison: The total electricity consumption in Germany amounts to about 545 terawatt-hours per year. In Iran, the high load on the power grid by crypto mining even led to power outages, so that the government temporarily banned the mining of cryptocurrencies for several months.
However the situation develops in the future, it is unfortunately not to be expected that prices will move significantly downwards in the shortest possible time.

Related Article: What Graphics Settings Should You Adjust to Your PC for gaming?

Graphics Card Purchase Advice

NVIDIA Graphics Cards

The NVIDIA GeForce graphics cards are divided into several series. The base cards are found in the GT 700 series and the GT 1000 series. These are mainly suitable for lower requirements such as office applications and multimedia and are characterized by particularly low power consumption. Some models also rely on a passive cooling solution, which allows them to work completely silently. In the middle price segment, you will find the GTX1600 series, which is particularly suitable for gaming in Full HD resolution. Current high-end graphics cards are known as “RTX 2000/3000”. Some models already have revised and performance-optimized variants with the name suffixes “Super” or “Ti”. For 2022, the RTX-4000 series is already the next generation.

A special feature of RTX cards is ray tracing. This ensures realistic lighting effects and shadows in games. AI-supported upscaling DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling), which is still in its infancy for many games, can also offer added value in the future.

AMD Graphics Cards

The AMD Radeon graphics cards are also divided into several series. Unfortunately, the current lineup of AMD graphics accelerators does not have any entry-level models, which is why we refer to the RX-500 models that have been on the market for some time. These are sufficient for simple games and offer a good price-performance ratio. The Radeon RX 5000/6000 series is in the medium to high price and performance range. Similar to NVidia, AMD already has optimized models in its range within its series, which are characterized by the name suffix “XT”. As with the Nvidia competition, a new generation is already in the starting blocks for 2022 with the RX-7000 models.

Which graphics card is right for whom?

Due to the current price situation, a price-linked recommendation is very difficult to make, which is why we orient ourselves primarily on the performance data and the use cases.

For very simple office tasks, the graphics unit integrated into many processors can be sufficient and make a dedicated graphics card superfluous. These include, for example, Ryzen APUs with a G suffix (for example, the R7 5700G) or Intel models without an F suffix. Alternatively, you can also use models such as the AMD RX 550 or an Nvidia GT 710/730/1030. The graphics performance of AMD APUs is often sufficient for simpler games in low resolution. If you have light gaming ambitions in Full HD, you should at least reach for an AMD RX 580 or an Nvidia GTX 1650/1660, whereby the GTX 1650 can very quickly reach its limits due to its video memory of four gigabytes for today’s conditions.

If you want to enjoy gaming in higher resolutions and a detailed display, you should use the current Nvidia models of the RTX 3000 series or AMD’s graphics cards of the RX-6000 series, alternatively, the predecessor series RTX 2000 and RX 5000 are recommended. The models RTX 2060 or 3060 from Nvidia and the RX 5600 or 6600 from AMD, which are very well suited for current games with a graphics memory of six to eight gigabytes and high graphics performance, form the entry here. The RTX 2070/3070 or RTX 2080/3080 and the RX 5700/6700 or RX 6800 offer slightly more performance with up to sixteen gigabytes of GDDR6 memory so that resolutions such as WQHD can also be displayed smoothly in higher refresh rates than 60 FPS. The current spearheads in the gaming sector are the Nvidia RTX 3090 and the AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT, which deliver the best gaming performance, but are clearly in the four-digit range in terms of price.

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Huzaif Enan
By Huzaif Enan

I discuss about technological problem solutions, the most reviewed product details, gadget buying and using tips, and solutions to various common software and hardware issues. I am very passionate about technology and willing to help you with all the knowledge I have acquired.

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